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Film / Lust for Gold

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Lust for Gold is a 1949 American Western film directed by S. Sylvan Simon and starring Ida Lupino and Glenn Ford. The film is about the legendary Lost Dutchman gold mine, starring Ford as the "Dutchman" and Lupino as the woman he loves. The historical events are seen through a framing device set in the contemporary 1940s. It was based on the book Thunder God's Gold by Barry Storm.

In the present, Barry Storm travels to Superstition Mountain, claiming he is a descendant of the original ‘Dutchman’, the German migrant Jakob Walz. Storm is involved in a shooting on the mountain and encounters the local sheriff and his men. With what the sheriff tells him and further research in newspaper archives of the 1880s and talking to elderly locals he pieces together a possible scenario – which leads into the flashback. Walz finds the original mine and murders his partner, then hits town where Ida Lupino is Julia Thomas, from a German family in Milwaukee and who runs a small bakery shop. Julia is married to the spineless Pete (Gig Young) but she sees an opportunity to seduce Jakob and find the gold for herself. It’s a risky business as the whole town knows about the find. What follows is a classic Western melodrama which ends in disaster and takes us back to the present where Barry Storm becomes involved in a typical Hollywood ‘resolution’ that maintains the integrity of the ‘lost gold’.

Tropes used in Lust for Gold:

  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: As Julia and Pete are fighting over the canteen, Walz shoots it out of their hands.
  • Broken-Window Warning: Walz threatens to shoot anyone who follows him out of the saloon. The saloon keeper says he's bluffing, only for two warning shots to shatter his window.
  • Chatty Hairdresser: Inverted. The timid town barber has to endure a fraught confrontation between Walz and Pete when they both come to his store at the same time. He then spends some time dodging Walz's awkward questions about who Pete is. He shows himself to be a master at speaking without saying anything at all.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The rattlesnake that nearly bites Barry when he is searching for the mine. During the climax, Barry is saved when a rattlesnake bites Ray as he is about to kill him.
  • Constantly Curious: Mrs Bannister as a young girl, who pesters Walz with questions till he scares her off by tricking her into firing a loaded rifle.
  • Gold Fever: As indicated by the title, a major theme of the film. Everybody who learns of the mine is possessed by a near uncontrollable desire to possess its contents.
  • Gossip Evolution: Happens several times with the crowd gathered round the assay office as Walz's has his ore assessed. For example, Walz's reluctance to sign the receipt gets passed along a line of people till it turns into him being unable to read or write at all.
  • Injun Country: Pedro Peralta and his miners are massacred by the Apaches for mining on Apache sacred ground.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The murderer attempts to force Barry off a cliff on Superstition Mountain so it will look like he died in an accidental fall.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Everyone except Julia assumes Walz is Dutch. He's actually German.
  • New Old West: The present day portion of the film shows that not much has changed since The Wild West; with a killer still picking off anyone they think is getting too close to the mine.
  • Ninja Log: Ramon Peralta and his partner leave rocks stacked to look like they are sitting round the campfire while they sneak off to find the mine. Walz only gets suspicious when the fire starts to die and the figures still haven't moved.
  • No Honour Among Thieves: Walz and Wiser tail Peralta and Ludi into the mountains to learn the location of the lost mine. Once Peralta and Ludi incover it, Walz and Wiser murder them. However, when Walz discovers how much gold is in the mine, he murders Wiser to keep it all for himself.
  • Sexless Marriage: Julia and Pete Thomas. When the audience first sees Pete, he is lying on Julia's bed. Julia angrily tells him off, saying the he knows he is not allowed in her bedroom. He attempts to insist of his conjugal rights, but is given the cold shoulder. The implication is that she has cut off sex ever since he lost all their money in a land scam, stranding them in Phoenix, which she regards as a backwater. The situation becomes worse when Julia banishes Pete from the house as part of her plan to seduce Walz.
  • Slipping a Mickey: When the saloon owner wants Walz out of his bar, the bartender dumps a powder into his beer to knock him out.
  • Small Town Boredom: Julia decides to latch on to Walz (and dump her husband Pete) because she has no intention of staying put and becoming "dried-up" like all of the other townswomen.
  • Treasure Map: Floyd Buckley possesses a map that he says will lead him to the Lost Dutchman Mine. A flashback later reveals that this map originally belonged to Ramon Peralta and was lost when he was murdered by Walz.
  • The Vamp: Julia Thomas strings both Pete and Walz along, playing them off against each other to her advantage.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The advertising material for the film bills it as the true story of the Lost Dutchman Mine. However, it was based on a book titled Thunder God's Gold which synthesized several stories and legends regarding the mine into a whole. Jacob Walz and Julia Thomas were real people, but they didn't meet until after the events involving the mine, with Julia nursing Jacob in the last years of his life. She certainly did not die in an earthquake on Superstition Mountain. Floyd Buckley is based on real-life treasure hunter Adolf Ruth who was murdered while searching for the mine the 1930s. However, that murder was not one of a string of killings as in the film.
  • Villain Protagonist: There are really no heroes in this film. Jakob Walz is a murderer and thief, while Julia Thomas is a Con Artist and an adulterer.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Walz has has Julia and Pete trapped on the ledge outside the mine and is slowly starving them to death. They are suffering from dehydration and Julia begs him for water. Walz taunts them by taking several long drinks from his canteen, before seeming to take pity on them and throwing them the canteen. However, as Pete and Julia are fighting over the canteen, Walz picks up his rifle and shoots a hole in the canteen, knocking it from their hands. A second shot knocks the canteen over the edge of the cliff.